Archive for August, 2012

Why Are Ultra Conservative United Methodists Going After Bishop Talbert?

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

In a July 19, 2012 letter drafted and endorsed by ultra conservative members of the unofficial United Methodist "Renew and Reform Coalition" groups (Good News, Renew, Confessing Movement within the UMC, Lifewatch, Transforming Congregations and United Methodist Action), the Council of Bishops is being asked to "publicly censure" Bishop Melvin Talbert and "file a formal complaint against him under ¶ 2702 (e) [disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church in violating his responsibility to uphold that order and discipline], ¶ 2702 (f) [dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church], and ¶ 2702 (g) [engaging in behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor]."

They state that "Bishop Melvin Talbert made the following comments on May 4, 2012, at the Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle in Tampa, Florida:
     The derogatory rules and restrictions in the Book of Discipline
     are immoral and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and
     obedience. Thus the time has come for those of us who are faithful
     to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to do what is required of us…

     The time has come to join in an act of Biblical obedience. I call on
     the more than 1,100 clergy [who have signed marriage initiatives] to
     stand firm in their resolve to perform marriages for same-sex couples
     and to do so in the course of their normal pastoral duties, thus
     defying the laws that prohibit them from doing so…

     The time for talking is over. It's time for us to act in defiance of
     unjust words of derogatory discrimination and laws that are doing
     harm to our GLBT [gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered]
     sisters and brothers."

(Click here to listen to all of Bishop Talbert's comments from May 4, 2012)

In addition, the letter calls for "the executive committee of the Council of Bishops request that those retired and active bishops who stood with Bishop Talbert as he called for disobedience to the Book of Discipline issue specific statements repudiating Bishop Talbert's call to perform same-sex unions, and should they fail to do so, publicly censure them for their actions.

The real agenda for this group is simply stated in one paragraph of the letter:
     "We are deeply concerned that Bishop Talbert has undercut
     that very discipline and order, by encouraging dissension,
     disunity and disobedience, and advocating anarchy and chaos
     in response to the actions of the 2012 General Conference,
     taken after focused prayer, study, and holy conferencing."

What is incorrectly implied by this statement is that the United Methodist Church has somehow achieved consensus, unity and complete loyalty to the prejudicial treatment of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) clergy and laity in our denomination who faithfully serve God in and through the church every day. What I believe is really intended by this letter, is to silence any dissent or disagreement within a denomination that was built around democratic principles of discerning the will of God together through Holy Conferencing. If they cannot achieve this false unity of conformity by legislative means at General Conference, narrow and selective interpretations of scripture and veiled threats of defunding the UMC (see letter signer, Rev. Tom Harrison's statement about his congregations apportionments in a recent UMCom article); then they will continue to use the churches structure and processes of judicial complaint in an attempt to intimidate both Bishops and clergy into silence and conformity.

Where is the United Methodist Church on unity around the issues of LGBT bias and inclusion? That is probably best summarized by the UMCom (United Methodist Communications) article, "Delegates cannot agree they disagree on sexuality" written about a compromise, substitute petition submitted by the Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter at General Conference 2012. For me, two quotes summarize where we are:
     "Many feel we need to take a strong stand against homosexuality,"
     said the Rev. James Howell, of the Western North Carolina Annual
     (regional) Conference "What matters is God's will. We have said
     for a long time we do not condone homosexuality, but they are here,
     they are in our delegations, they are serving our churches. They keep
     coming back… there is a kind of miracle in that."

     The Rev. Maxie Dunham (a signer of the letter calling to censure
     Bishop Talbert) of the Kentucky Annual (regional) Conference spoke
     against the substitution saying, "It leaves out good teaching. There
     is no reason at all to state we disagree, because we disagree about
     almost everything, he said.

If Maxie Dunham is to be taken at his word, then it appears that Bishop Talbert's statement that "the time for talk is over" was more of an observation of our UMC reality then a call to disobedience.

On May 3rd at General Conference, Council of Bishops president Rosemarie Wenner spoke to the LGBT United Methodists present on behalf of the Council, saying, "You have been hurt by actions of General Conference and by the polity of the United Methodist Church. I feel your pain. We see your pain." And then speaking to everyone at GC 2012, "We ask you, gathered here, to join us in that commitment to Holy Conferencing and to steps toward unity which help us to recognize the divisions we are in."

For some of us, myself included, Bishop Talbert's statements at the Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle on May 4th may have done more for taking "steps toward unity which help to recognize the divisions we are in," than anything that took place in the political posturing that was taking place on the floor of General Conference. His words were meant to encourage a group of 1,100 of us clergy who have already decided that the only way we can stay and serve within our beloved United Methodist Church, is by being obedient to our call to serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the people we have the privilege to be appointed in service with; even if that obedience puts us at odds with policies (polity) of the denomination that even the Council of Bishops agrees cause "pain" to some of our United Methodist sisters and brothers.

When our Council of Bishops meet this fall to discuss the letter coming from the far right of our church, I hope they will consider Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience!
     1)   I hope they will remember the Pharisees who tried to use
           threats and intimidation to silence Jesus and force a false unity
           of beliefs through coerced conformity upon their congregants.
           I'll hope they will remember Jesus' words found in Luke 19,
           "Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, 'Teacher,
           rebuke your disciples!' 'I tell you,' he replied, 'if they
           keep quiet, the stones will cry out.'" Censuring is a rebuking!
           And when they tried to trap him using the rules of his day,
           Jesus responded with the "Great Commandment as the 
           basis for all of the laws of God: Jesus said, "Love the Lord
           your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and
           with all your mind. This is the first and 
greatest commandment.  
           And the second is like it, love your 
neighbor as yourself. 
           All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments"
           (Matthew 22:35-40).

     2)   I hope our Bishops will remember our Wesleyan heritage of
           our "Three Simple Rules: Do no harm. Do all the good
           you can. Stay in love with God;" and, our connectional  
           practice of "in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty, in
           all things, charity."

     3)   I hope our Bishops feel free of the intimidation of threats
           and charges to speak and do what is in their hearts and
           minds according to the Grace of God. Reason and
           Experience coming together in an act of God's Grace for
           others. In other words, I hope they are able live out in
           leadership what they asked of all of us at General Conference:
           "to join… in that commitment to Holy Conferencing and to
           steps toward unity which help us to recognize the divisions
           we are in." Remembering that forced conformity has and never
           will equate or work out to the kind of unity God calls us
           toward.

The letter calling for censure of retired Bishop Melvin Talbert and the Bishops who stood with him, is nothing short of an attempt to keep our Bishop's hands and tongues tied. It's trying to force the Council of Bishops to take sides, rather than allowing them to speak their hearts and minds. As issues of Biblical interpretation; the validity of God's Grace being available to all; and, the roles and monitoring of how the church and society marginalize others based on sexual orientation, race, gender and gender expression continue to divide us… I want to have a group of Bishops that are free to lead, not bound by fear and intimidation. So I hope you will join me in keeping our United Methodist Bishops in prayer and committing to work to create a space in our church where the Spirit can truly be free to do its work of guidance and creativity. I'm praying in hopes that the sanctifying and perfecting Love and Grace of God may take hold of our Bishops and thereby our beloved community, the United Methodist connection, and take us all to new places of hope and faithfulness!

              Rev. Steve Clunn, Love Your Neighbor Coalition Coordinator

Breast Milk, Homosexuality, and Being United Methodist

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Last week a certain US Senate candidate made waves by speaking of “legitimate rape.” This week political satire humorists spread a rumor that the candidate believes "female breast milk – when fed directly to an adult homosexual male daily for at least four weeks – has a 94% chance of permanently curing homosexual perversions." (NOTE: The candidate DID NOT state this. It's satire).

Thankfully this is just humor to bring light to Rep. Akin's scientific ignorance, but I wonder if he and other lawmakers would want to listen to the stories of those whose lives were fortified by good government programs, like those at womenshealth.gov or those that were strengthened by the passage of the Affordable Care Act. I wonder if he'd listen to my story about how breast feeding nourished not only my infant body, but my developing faith.

When I was born, my mother belonged to the Churches of Christ. If you know anything about this small, evangelical denomination, you probably know that they have beautiful a capella singing because they don’t have instrumental music in worship. This is mostly derived from their doctrine of “if it’s not in the bible (specifically the New Testament), don’t do it.”

Soon after I was born, my mother began taking me to Sunday morning worship (and Sunday and Wednesday evening bible study) with her. She would often take me to the nursery to do what you do in nurseries: nurse.  After a few weeks the elders of the congregation paid a visit to our home and asked my mother if she would stop breastfeeding me in the nursery.  In the nursery.  It seems they were worried that one of the teenaged boys might walk in and see her breastfeeding me and begin to ask questions.  The elders asked my mother to consider feeding me before coming to church or pumping and bringing a bottle.  See, these elders were, like Rep. Akin, men who didn’t understand not only the science of maternity, but the time, organization, and in some cases, pain, caused by pumping.

The next week we started attending The United Methodist Church, and we were welcomed.  No questions were asked about breastfeeding. My mother was gladly shown the nursery/Sunday school room where should could feed me if I got fussy.  And it was there, in that small country church overlooking the banks of the Ohio River, that I learned that God’s welcome is greater than any moral code or theological doctrine.  From Sunday school to Christmas pageants to Vacation Bible School, I learned what it meant to be caring and compassionate, kind and courteous. 

When I first spoke the words, “I’m gay,” it was on the steps of the chapel at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Through tears and laughter, the grace, compassion, and welcome I felt then must have been the same that my mother felt when she walked into that United Methodist Church 18 years previously. 

Breast milk – or even more importantly, scientific ignorance -  cannot be allowed to become a symbol of theological and political demagoguery.  Instead, let it be a sign of welcome – to children, to mothers, to those on the margins. This is the message we hear again and again in Scripture.  May we be so bold to listen to that message and live it out as people of faith.

Breast milk didn’t affect my sexual orientation. But it did make me United Methodist.

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Chett Pritchett is Development and Communications Associate for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and serves as Lay Leader at Dumbarton UMC in Washington, DC.

Affordable Health Care and Reproductive Choice

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Q. How can you be a Sunday school teacher and be pro-choice? A: Jesus

Yes, I’ve actually been asked this question repeatedly my entire adult life. My two lifelong volunteer commitments have been teaching Sunday school and volunteering for reproductive health agencies. I never considered it an inconsistency, yet somehow, others (in both communities) have been surprised by my active service in these areas.

For the past 18 ½ years, I’ve also heard a variation on this theme – Q. How can you be married to a minister and be pro-choice? A. See above.

Seriously, people, there is no inconsistency. I’m a pro-choice, pro-contraceptive, pro-woman, pro-Jesus, pro-inclusion Christian trying every day to live out my baptismal and membership vows. If every week as I prepare my Sunday school lessons and I don’t get that Jesus was pro-all the above, I’m being obstinately obtuse.  I love it when the students I learn with get it, too. God loves us, Jesus showed us, the Holy Spirit helps us….to do justice, love kindness and walk with God. Kids understand when others are mean.

Let me share an example. When my daughter was 5 or 6, we were driving by our local family planning clinic where I often volunteered. It was surrounded by “Operation Rescue”-types, barricading entrance to the clinic for patients and volunteers (the last time I’d volunteered there, a knife had been drawn by one of them – but that’s another story). They were holding the graphically obscene signs of dismembered fetuses that you may have seen through the years. They are disturbing and frightening images. My daughter saw them and was scared. “What are they doing, Mommy?” she said. I replied, “They don’t believe people should be able to choose to have children.” Her brown eyes got teary and she said, “But what if they didn’t let you choose to be my Mommy”.

Fast forward more than twenty years when I had the privilege of talking with Ray Suarez on PBS NewsHour on the “war on contraception” along with the chief legal counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops earlier this year. When they vetted me to be on the show, I guess they liked my answers or decided I was a combo of “nice church lady” and pro-choice advocate.  It was hard for me to connect what I was hearing from the Bishops’ attorney with what I know to be true. Contraceptives aren’t a gateway drug to immoral sexual behavior – they’re lifesavers. Planned Parenthood isn’t in the business to provide abortions – it’s the primary care provider for women without health insurance. Every year you need a pap and pelvic in order to safely be prescribed contraception – so women without any other health care can at least be screened for cervical cancer and get early treatment. It’s not about religious liberty – it’s about access to health care.

It wasn’t lost on me that the Bishops’ attorney was a white middle aged male. Being a “nice church lady” I talked to him in the green room before the show and learned that he and his wife have an infant daughter and yes, I asked to see the pictures. It turns out they made an intentional choice to be parents. After the show, I didn’t have to say anything to him about his own daughter’s future choices. He clearly heard me state on the air that “Women don’t get pregnant. They are impregnated”. I hope it made him think about his work. And I hope he got the message that being pro-choice and Christian is completely compatible for me and for many.

This month a big barrier to contraceptive care was eliminated with the Affordable Care Act. My now 28-year old daughter has a lot more choices for her reproductive health – and I hope she’ll never have to hear her future son or daughter ask the question “What if they didn’t let you choose to be my Mommy?” I’m grateful to God everyday for the choice to be a parent. 

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Jill A. Warren is the Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. An experienced nonprofit executive, Jill's  faith has led her to do justice work in family violence prevention, reproductive health, and civil rights.

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